Epsom Manorial Surveys

Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History

Epsom Manorial Surveys

In the manorial records for Epsom held at Surrey History Centre, there are two surveys which give us an unparalleled insight into the village - for it was a village in those days - at the beginning and end of its Spa period. The surveys (SHC: K31/4/1 and 2) were made seventy-five years apart. The first was begun at a meeting on 11 March 1680 (or 1679, if you use the Old Style in which the year didn't change until the end of March) and continued to collect information until 10 June. As an enquiry into rents and rights, it seems to have been one of the means by which Elizabeth Evelyn, the lady of the manor, maximised income from her property. The second survey was conducted when John Parkhurst was lord of the manor. It began on 8 September 1755 and proceeded through several more meetings until 5 January 1756.

The Survey of 1680

Click here for the 1680 Survey

The manorial survey of 1680 contains the first detailed picture of Epsom. On the chalk downs to the south were sheep pastures where the tenants could keep two sheep for every acre they held. The wasteland to the north was home to a handful of squatter's cottages and Epsom Wells. Woodcote Park was the seat of Elizabeth Evelyn, Lady of the Manor. Much of the central demesne land was leased as part of Epsom Court Farm. The common fields comprised over 800 acres but some encroachments had been made, notably on the western border for the grounds of Durdans. Holdings consisted of widely dispersed strips but the only regulation of agriculture indicated in the customs of the Manor concerned the dates at which it was permissible to bring down sheep from the Downs to common fields and lower common. Fishing and fowling on the waste land was reserved to the Lady of the Manor. A Court Leet was held annually when constables, headboroughs, and Common drivers were elected for Epsom and for Woodcote, and a Court Baron was held normally every three weeks. Much of this had not altered since the Middle Ages.

The house of Lord Berkeley at Durdans, from the painting by Jacob Knyff
The house of Lord Berkeley at Durdans, from the painting by Jacob Knyff
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In the village, however, there were considerable changes. There was still open land separating the ancient areas of settlement, a fact that later added to Epsom's charm in the eyes of people like Toland and Defoe. The High Street, rather than the area around the church, had become the focal point with a considerable inn at the Kings Head. It was not fully built up but it formed a corridor between the outlying areas of Stamford and Church Street. It is possible to identify 114 messuages or tenements in Epsom in 1680. If some allowance is made for about 12 houses at Horton (there may also have been property held in Epsom by the manors of Horton and Ewell), then there were probably about 130 dwellings in Epsom at this time. This number represents an increase of nearly 60%, or 4% per annum since the Hearth Tax Returns of 1664. Apart from a small structure at the Wells on the common, most of the buildings connected with the Spa including two bowling greens, were to be found in the High Street and its western extension, Clay Hill (West Hill). The survey mentioned specifically only 4 'shops', meaning workshops ? all in the High Street. The number seems small, and it is likely that others were not mentioned separately because they were parts of larger messuages. There was a malthouse at Clay Hill, brewhouses in Beckensalls Lane (Dorking Road) and Church Street, and two forges in a lane leading from the High Street to the Town Mead. At Somersgate Lane (Wheelers Lane) there was a brick kiln, licensed at the Court Baron in 1663. A limitation was placed on the amount of land which could be open for clay digging at any time, and the Lady of the Manor could buy bricks and tiles at stated prices. The industry must have been essential for the increased building activity at this time. There was a messuage on Stamford Green called Chappel Hall, the last surviving memory of the old Stamford Chapel. In Church Street a school house adjoined Mr Fendell's brewery, next to the church.

The sixteenth-century demesne farmhouse at Epsom Court, drawn by Edward Hassell
The sixteenth-century demesne farmhouse at Epsom Court, drawn by Edward Hassell
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

There was also some development of gentlemen's houses, all in places described later by Toland as the best residential areas since they lay away from the High Street. A Major Bourne had a house on demesne land in Toms Lane (Grove Road), and John Chalkley, gentleman, another at Epsom Court Farm. John Playford lived down Becknsalls lane and John Maund and Christopher Hatton at Woodcote. Katherine Beane, the widow of a city alderman, had a house at Beckensalls Lane, and Thomas Milles, described as a citizen and embroiderer, another at Clay Hill. The Earl of Berkeley owned the great house at Durdans, and Elizabeth Evelyn the other at Woodcote Park. Some 79 properties in the village boasted stables, but there were only 6 coach houses apart from those at the King's Head. Katherine Bean, Major Bourne, and Lord Berkeley, owned these, and so did Mr. Grant at Clay Hill, Mr. Saunders at Stamford, and John Collyer at Woodcote.

The Survey of 1755

Click here for the 1755 Survey

By the time of the second survey in 1755 the Spa had long reached its height and declined . The peak period of residential building had also passed some years earlier and some of the public buildings were either empty or had become private houses. In some respects there was little change from the position in 1680. The common land was still largely intact, though there was the 'new orbicular' race course noted by Toland in 1711, and there had been considerable squatter development on the clay wasteland at Epsom Common. This took the form of 32 cottages, comprising 36 tenements, and the Steward of the Manor recorded 'by what rent or service we know not'. Of these, 7 cottages in 8 tenements were at Woodcote, but the majority lay on the common between Stamford and the Wells. The dates of 11 cottages in 13 tenements were unknown to the Steward so it is likely that these were old rather than new encroachments; but no other cottage was less than 20 years old. The ages of the others were as follows:

1700s ('about 50 years ago') 2 cottages In 3 tenements
1710s ('about 40 years ago') 4 cottages  
c.1720 ('about 35 years ago') 3 cottages  
1720s ('about 30 years ago') 4 cottages  
1730s ('about 20 years ago') 9 cottages In 10 tenements

Old cottages on Epsom Common, as sketched in the 1790s
Old cottages on Epsom Common, as sketched in the 1790s
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In the common fields there had been some enclosure for building. The Court Rolls of 1713 and 1714 show the gradual acquisition of holdings in the common fields by Josiah Diston for the extensive grounds of his house at Woodcote Grove. Though he did not secure ownership of all of the strips in the fields, the land was enclosed. With other enclosures for nearby houses at Woodcote Corner and Pearle Hill, the openfield shots in this area were almost extinguished. Further parts of Upper and Lower Digdens were annexed to the Durdans estate, but elsewhere only small parts of openfield were built on. There was a malthouse on part of Gorbridge Shot; parts of Shortley and Vicarage Corner Shots became the gardens of houses in Church Street, and a few small houses were built on land in Harris Hearne and Childerplat Shots, abutting on the road to Ewell. There was also a small amount of enclosure in the common fields, though the separate ownership of strips remained unchanged. It can be assumed that the occupiers were engaged on some rationalisation of their farming practice while the pattern of ownership remained unchanged.

There were a minimum of 364 messuages or tenements in the manor compared with 114 in 1680. The number cannot be stated exactly since a small number of entries in the survey relate to several tenements, 'several' being reckoned her as 3. It is clear that Epsom had increased more than threefold in the 76 years between the two surveys. This represents a rate of about 4% per annum, but if it is assumed that the greater part of the increase took place in the first 50 years of that period, then the yearly increase averaged about 6%. Most of this development took place in the High Street and the adjoining thoroughfares. On the south side of the western High Street where there had been in 1680 only the White Hart, the King's Head, a messuage attached to the bowling green, and a few other buildings, the surveyors of 1755 found 36 messuages or tenements in addition to a forge, brewhouse, shop storeroom, coach houses, and a number of other buildings not described specifically. In and near the High Street were two bowling greens and their attendant long rooms, taverns, and other buildings, and the King's Head had been supplemented by another large inn, the Spread Eagle, as well as many buildings which had been lodging houses for the company at the Spa.

Epsom in 1729, from the map of Surrey by John Senex
Epsom in 1729, from the map of Surrey by John Senex
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

There had been a corresponding increase in the good residential houses. At Woodcote, in addition to Josiah Diston's former house, there was the fine house on Woodcote Green built by Edward Northey, and owned in 1755 by another of that name. He also had three other good houses at Woodcote which were let. Three very large houses had been built on the waste land of the Manor to the west of the New Inn. There was scattered building between Woodcote and the High Street. A number of good houses had also been built in Church Street, north and south of the Vicarage, and also at Clay Hill. On the south side of Clay Hill there had been two messuages in 1680; now there were nine. These are the areas where the greatest number of Spa period houses still survive. The affluence of their residents must be judged from the fact that of the 52 properties listed with coach houses, 42 were in those areas. The increase in the number of coach houses must also reflect the growth of wheeled traffic in the eighteenth century as well as the quality of the houses. Some were probably the old stables converted to another use. After the middle of the eighteenth century, the number of good houses does not appear to have increased. Ashley House was built in the lane leading to the Town Mead in about 1769, and O'Kelly built his house at Clay Hill in about 1774. On the other hand several large houses were allowed to fall into decay. In his Companion of 1789, Edwards mentioned four at West Hill and South Street. On the other hand he also stated that several houses had been re-fronted in red brick.

18 'shops' are mentioned, still probably workshops rather than retail outlets; nearly all of them in the High Street and adjacent roads. The number of brewhouses had risen to 13 since 1680, and there was the malthouse near the church. There were also two slaughterhouses and the brick kiln at Somersgate Lane. In Church Street there was a Presbyterian Meeting House. This was probably built soon after the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687, for the first Minister was Francis Yewell who had been presented to Quarter Sessions at Guildford in 1676 for holding conventicles in his house.

(Many thanks to Barbara Abdy, who took on the formidable task of typing up these two surveys from scans provided by Surrey History Centre, and to Louise Aitken and Eddie Hughes, who prepared the online text. The introduction has been taken from the typescript History of Epsom written by the late Dorothy Nail)

Jeremy Harte © 2014

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